This past weekend, I went to a family wedding on Sebago Lake, in central Maine.
I now use Google Maps with a portable internet hot spot as my navigation aid of choice and I knew what it would give me as the fastest route to Maine. NY State Thruway, Mass Turnpike, 290 through Worcester to 495, to 95 north into Maine. Ugh, the same roads I’ve driven a thousand times. Getting passed by maniacs on both sides at 85 miles per hour. Service plazas filled with glassy-eyed pod people shuffling aimlessly through their boring, cruise-controlled lives, subsisting on nothing but Burger King and Sbarro.
Call me a modern day Robert Frost, but I opted for a different way. By jumping off the Thruway at the Albany toll plaza, my wife and I could take a route of old fashioned two lane roads through the heart of the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. We could reconnect with parts of our native New Hampshire that we hadn’t visited since our youth, travel through quaint villages, stop to eat at a family restaurant or diner or clam shack and arrive at our destination only 30 minutes later than if we had taken the Interstates. And we would save money on tolls and gas, as this route was actually 50 miles shorter than the freeway option.
It was the perfect plan. Almost. As we approached Bennington, Vermont, I looked for the Bennington Battle Monument, the 300 foot high stone obelisk commemorating an important Revolutionary War battle. I didn’t see it. I also didn’t see Bennington. A newly-completed bypass whisks you right around the town of 15,000 and sends you on your way up into the Green Mountains. Great if you’re in a hurry to get to Brattleboro. Not so great if you have designs on a journey reminiscent of days gone by or if you own one of the restaurants or downtown shops that no longer have cars going by their front doors. Oh well, you have to break a few towns to make a highway omelet.
New Hampshire Route 9 makes its way from the Connecticut River at the Vermont state line eastward across southern New Hampshire. When I was very young, Route 9 traveled through downtown Keene along its Main Street. Not any more. Bypass. The bypass does go right by a Home Depot if you want to pick up a wrench and throw it though a Highway Department planner’s window.
Onward across beautiful southern New Hampshire. Route 9 used to slowly wind its way past small lakes and ponds and homes built in the 1700s. We can’t have that. This is the 21st century, places to go, people to see, can’t dawdle now. Over the years, the road has been “improved” so you can now zoom from Keene to Concord faster than ever. Wave when you go past Hillsboro. I think it’s still there. Route 9 used to go right through downtown, but not any more.
OK, so most of the trip was quite pleasant. We did have to take Interstate 393 briefly through New Hampshire as I thundered “what the hell is Interstate 393?” But we also found a terrific family restaurant for dinner and wound our way along charming two lane highways through Wolfeboro, the first summer resort in America and Ossipee, home of the first snowmobile, then into Maine and its twisting, turning country lanes through towns that haven’t changed a bit in decades. The state slogan is “The Way Life Should Be.” Damn straight.